|Icon from here|
Church Year : Epiphany
When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee his Beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of his Word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee (Troparion).
Today Thou hast appeared to the universe, end Thy Light, O Lord, has shone on us, who with understanding praise Thee: Thou hast come and revealed Thyself, O Light Unapproachable! (Kontakion).
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Is 40:3-5; Lk 3:4-6).
For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14).
The voice of the Lord cries over the waters, saying: Come all ye, receive the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of the fear of God, even Christ who is made manifest.
Today the nature of water is sanctified. Jordan is divided in two, and turns back the stream of its waters, beholding the Master being baptized.
As a man Thou didst come to that river, O Christ our King, and dost hasten O Good One, to receive the baptism of a servant at the hands of the Forerunner (John), because of our sins, O Lover of Man(Hymns of the Great Blessing of Waters).
|St. Isaiah the Prophet (here)|
Let the thirsty wilderness be glad, let the desert rejoice, let it blossom as a rose, let it blossom abundantly, let everything rejoice… (Is 35: 1-10)
Go to that water, O you who thirst, and as many as have no money, let them eat and drink without price, both wine and fat… (Is 55:1-13)
With joy draw the water out of the wells of salvation. And in that day shall you say: Confess ye unto the Lord and call upon his Name; declare his glorious deeds… his Name is exalted… Hymn the Name of the Lord… Rejoice and exult… (Is 12:3.6).
|Icon from here.|
|Icon from here|
Saint John the Forerunner preaches in Hades, to prepare the souls of the people about the arrival of Christ, Who was to descend there after His Crucifixion in order to plunder it and to open up Paradise.
We, as Christians, are engaged in this struggle to reclaim fallen nature for the Kingdom of God. We often talk about this in terms of our own salvation, but the Church, addressing all of creation in a wholistic manner, also reaches out and reclaims a bit here and a bit there of creation in general. We do this in order that we might restore the usefulness of creation for working out our own salvation. Hence we bless anything that might help us in our salvation - and by blessing it we reclaim it for the Kingdom of God.
There are few things more vital to our lives than our homes. In our homes we pray, we work, we talk to others, we order our lives, we work out our marriages, etc. What more important place to reclaim for the Kingdom of God - or is it better to continue living in a place which is occupied by the enemy. For the most effective working out of our salvation, we must drive the enemy out of our homes, and keep him at bay by our prayers, our righteous life, and the annual sprinkling by Holy Water at Theophany.
Baptism of Christ – The Theophany Icon
From the first century of the Christian Church, there has always been “The Festival of Lights”. In the depth of Midwinter, this feast celebrated the advent of the Son of God’s coming into the world as Jesus Christ, and His early years up to and including His baptism in the Jordan, which heralded the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
Over the centuries, the various aspects of Christ’s early years were separated into individual feasts on different days: His Nativity, the Visitation of the Magi, His presentation in the Temple, and His circumcision. But the principal event of the Feast of Lights – Christ’s Baptism – continued to be commemorated on the 6th of January. Why is this event so important?
The event depicted in the icon is that described in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; here is Matthew’s version:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”This, then, is the Epiphany (revelation) of the Holy Trinity, otherwise known as Theophany which literally means a “revelation of God” in Greek (Θεοφάνεια; the Russian is Богоявление and means the same).
But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)
The paradox that Jesus Christ might be revealed as God through an act of submittal to a mere man, John, is shown well in the Icon. Though John is baptizing Christ, it is the former who is shown bent over in reverence to the latter. In other icons, John is shown with his face turned toward heaven and beholding the miracle of the Theophany; either way, despite being the baptizer, he is not central to the scene. Near to John is a tree with an axe laid at the root, recalling John’s own preaching to those who came to him: “And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matt 3:10).
Present in the icon, this shows that whilst the Baptizer must now “decrease so Christ may increase”, John’s teachings and role are not done away with now the Holy Trinity has been revealed. On the opposite bank to John the Baptist, angels wait invisibly to receive the newly baptized Christ and clothe Him. And so, on the left is the forerunner of Christ, John, with his sermon of repentance represented by the tree and axe; on the right, the angels wait with reverence to accept the newly revealed Son of God. In the middle – the moment of revelation itself.
The Icon of the Theophany, as well as depicting the Holy Trinity, also answers the question of John the Baptist: I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me? The answer is in what Jesus does with His hands. Whilst in Western art, like this painting by Da Vinci, Jesus is shown as submitting to John’s authority, in Orthodox icons Christ’s hands are not shown in prayer, but in a sign of blessing. Rather than the waters of Jordan cleansing Christ, it is Christ Who cleans the waters. This is why in the bottom of most Theophany Icons, little creatures appear to be fleeing from the feet of Christ. This is a reflection of the words of the Psalmist regarding the Messiah (Christ): “the sea saw and fled, the Jordan turned back” (Psalm 114:3).
This is the depth and profundity of the Baptism of Christ; the feast of lights which revealed the Holy Trinity, and cleansed the waters of baptism so that we, like the fishes shown in the icon, may swim in pure waters.
Turned back before Elisha’s mantle at Elijah’s ascension.
The waters were parted in two
And the waterway became a dry path.
This is truly a symbol of baptism
By which we pass through this mortal life.
Christ has appeared in the Jordan to sanctify the waters!